Before watching the movie:
This is another one it’s hard to find much description that doesn’t just recap the entire plot, so I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to see for a while. A rich Boston kid running away to Gold Rush California to have adventures? Eh, not too exciting. The kid getting accompanied by his family’s very buttoned-up butler out of concern for his safety, and the butler is played by Roddy McDowall? This is somewhat more relevant to my interests.
I suspect this is going to have more of an episodic structure, as the Disney equivalent of a pulp Western adventure. Apparently it’s a musical, which could go either way. Being based on a book, there will probably be a decent amount of substance, but mostly I expect loosely connected Western-themed hijinks and barely justified showstopper songs.
After watching the movie:
When their supposedly wealthy grandfather dies and is revealed to have been broke, Arabella and Jack Flagg find themselves forced to figure out their own way in the world. Jack immediately takes his opportunity to sneak onto a boat headed to San Francisco to make his own fortune in the gold rush and take care of his older sister, but their butler Griffin goes after him to attempt to bring him home. Unfortunately, Griffin gets knocked out by thespian Quentin Bartlett who believes him to be a ruffian after his map to the Mother Lode, and Griffin and Jack are stuck on the boat all the way to San Francisco, forced to pay their way classing up the galley meals. Shortly before arriving, Judge Higgins steals Bartlett’s map, and Griffin and Jack agree to be equal partners with Bartlett in trying to get it back and sharing the profits. Arriving in San Francisco, the three soon find themselves getting bullied by casino bouncer Mountain Ox, but Griffin inadvertently knocks him out in one “open-handed blow” with a glove filled with a few hours’ earnings from giving haircuts, getting himself a reputation and the nickname “Bullwhip”. Griffin and Jack get into and out of scrapes across California trying to get the map to their fortune back from Higgins, and meanwhile Arabella, having learned what happened to them, has arrived in San Francisco looking for her brother and her butler, and though neither of them will admit it, Griffin is at least as smitten with Arabella as she is with him.
The songs were not nearly as intrusive as I expected. Most of the singing is just a few verses of narration moving the story to another sequence, no doubt because there’s a lot of plot to cover for a movie of the day and there’s a lot of connections to be made that could significantly add to the already relatively lengthy (and a bit slow) runtime if conveyed in scenes instead of transition. I think the only song that isn’t part of that is Arabella’s number as the casino singer The Boston Belle.
This is kind of a talky movie. Again, there’s lots of plot to cover, but there are also action scenes that could happen, but just don’t. Sometimes there are abrupt fadeouts that make me wonder if the version I saw (which was noted as “edited for content”) was cut for commercial breaks despite being a theatrical release. It’s altogether maybe the smallest-scale movie with extensive, open location scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s usually funny, but does have a tendency to drag scenes out for attempts at clever dialogue.
At least something is always happening in this movie, even if it isn’t all that much. While it’s a fair adventure, characters drop in and out for very long stretches as the story loops around on itself. There’s probably better choices in adventure movies set in a theme park version of the old west, but this serves adequately.